The Marine View Driver: Summer Diversion, or Memories from Across the Valley
In which the author waxes historic, lyrical, and ironic.
By Mike Smith
One of the places I used to live as an adult was in Kent. Right on the Benson Highway.
The Benson Hwy is not commonly known to most people, I would think. But if you are interested, it is officially called Hwy 515. In its 7.68 miles it travels in a vaguely straight line from the vicinity of Kent Meridian High School to downtown Renton (some of which is in the old Loop) to N. 3rd.
Life is full of little ironies. Which is great for a lover of irony like me.
Irony and sarcasm are synonyms, by the way, though “irony” seems to be more socially acceptable. I once answered a question of a co-worker from the east coast in the sarcastic vein. She asked, “Do you have to drive on hills a lot when it snows?” My first answer was, “Oh, I love it. It’s far more dangerous and exciting as one never has lived till one has faced death on a rapid slide down James Street.” She looked at me blankly and flatly said, “I don’t like sarcasm.” So after apologizing I changed my answer to the ironic, “Well, after all I live in Seattle.” To which she nodded in a confirmatory way and said, “Oh of course, I wasn’t thinking.” I used the same derisive method but one she found more to her liking. Ironic.
Anyway, back to the Benson Highway. Four years ago my wife and I moved to Renton to live as missionaries, sort of. We were serving the homeless in Renton every Saturday night and decided to live near our peeps in order to perhaps do more for them. Or at least be friends and possible advocates to them. We moved to the extreme north terminus of the Benson Hwy. Unintentionally so, since our home in Kent was on the other extreme end of the same Highway on the south terminus. Ironic.
As a matter of fact, our home in Kent was an historic part of the old Benson Hwy. The alley behind our home is in fact the old highway itself. It was rerouted in the 1960s.
In 1937 the route was built and designated with the sexy sounding name of Secondary State Hwy 5C. Then it was paved in the 50s and renamed State Route 515 in 1964. Benson is the name of an early settler and land owner on the east hill of Kent. There is a picture of the view down the alley where our house stands in the Golden Steer Restaurant. Basically a cow trail, but it got me thinking. So I looked up some history. I have yet to go to the actual Kent or Renton Museums to find out more, but what I found was interesting. In fact you’ve just read it.
What you don’t know is that there is a huge boulder that blocks the old Benson Hwy. There is a picture in the above mentioned eatin’ joint of some guys climbing on this boulder and you can clearly see the road veering around the rock. That rock is right by us. Our kids used to climb on it. It is huge.
Our back yard at that house had three distinct levels. One year I got ambitious and decided to level out the bottom and create a wonderland of gardening delight. I rented a jack hammer and tried to tear out an old 25’ x 20’ parking slab in the back. Then I was going to move some dirt around, possibly have some brought in to level things out. The cement slab was apparently built to a commercial specification. I broke the jack hammer and got the cutting spike caught in the cement. I found out that the cement slab is 12” thick and lined with rebar. I didn’t think they knew about rebar in 1937.
After that idea got conked out, I decided to simply bury the slab with the dirt from the higher elevations. I got out my shovel and started digging and after 5 minutes I discovered a cement slab. After several other holes I was able to piece out the puzzle. My property had been the site of an old store or something and my three levels of yard were former parking, stair case and loading dock for, oh, who knows, Pa Benson’s Feed Store conveniently located right on the Benson Highway.
Grass can be pretty on three different levels.
As you walk along the Benson you can find a lot of interesting sites. One of my favorites is the gull carving on one of the telephone poles at around the 220th St. mark. If you are driving or walking along 108th and pay attention to the telephone poles, you’ll see one that is a bit shorter, does not have the power lines on top, and has what looks like a seagull perched on top. That got there because the guy who used to live in the house at that address didn’t like the idea of the city digging a big hole in his front yard to put up one of those newfangled power lines. “We’re all going to die of cancer from ’tricity!” Despite his Luddite leanings, he saw the inevitability of the project and silently conceded defeat. The night before the pole was laid the crew delivered the pole to his front yard along with the machinery to install it and went home for the day. That night old Crusty took his chain saw and carved a pretty decent likeness of a seagull in the top of the pole, maintaining its structural integrity. The crew went ahead and made their own sort of concession and used it anyway.
My wife and I have a saying called “Benson Moments.” We marvel at how often we see unusual and unique things on the Benson. One day we were out for a walk and a boy drove by on his bike with a large purple stuffed horse on his head. It was a good sized horse too. It gave the impression that a flying purple horse was carrying a boy on his bicycle.
Then there was a guy that dragged a big tree branch out of the woods and put it in the middle of the street and yelled at people as they went by. Apparently, he couldn’t handle such large-scale indifference to his gardening techniques. This kind of thing happened often.
Then one day we saw this lady.
She was just walking down the road with her stick. She was singing and appeared to be otherwise happy. I don’t think she was trying to hide from any one. No stranger to paparazzi, either, as my wife asked to take her picture and she smiled. Just like this.
Do you ever wonder where people are going or what their lives might be like? There is no way to tell for sure unless you ask them. We asked her what she was doing. We’d never seen her before. She said she was happy and liked to dress happy. That is all we know. Seemed like a good enough bio to us.
I don’t know if this is ironic or what. It’s nice to meet a genuinely happy person once in a while, though. Hope she “sticks” with it!